A Consumer Action News Alert • December 2022
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  Don’t be a pushover!  

Authorized push payment fraud is a crime in which victims are manipulated into authorizing real-time payments to fraudsters, who typically use deception and impersonation to convince victims that they are trying to help. The tricksters use any number of guises to convince victims that there’s a problem with their accounts. The scam can start with fake invoices, tech support popups, fraud alerts purporting to be from companies you do business with, and other nefarious ruses. In late November, the FBI warned the public about “tech support scams” in which victims are coerced into allowing installation of remote desktop software on their computers that lets scammers monitor, manipulate and perform actions with the goal of gaining access to victims’ accounts. Often, victims unwittingly click on a link, such as in a fake invoice sent by text or email, that allows scammers to download the software to infect browsers and allow popups on computers that are not adequately protected with antivirus and malware prevention programs. The programs can cause the browser (and even the computer) to “freeze,” which is when the popup appears, offering tech support. If this happens to you, do a hard shut-down on the computer by holding down the power button, and then consult a reputable computer repair service. Do not, under any circumstances, call the number or click any links in the popup. 

  Return to sender  

BBB warns customers of delivery scams during the holiday season that arrive in phishing texts or emails posing as official notices from delivery companies. The tricks can even come via phone, in which targets are asked to “call back” to arrange for redelivery of packages. Messages that say they’re from UPS, FedEx, USPS or Amazon ask customers to update delivery preferences for packages by clicking on a link that takes them to a form asking for (and stealing) personally identifiable information, or to a site that downloads malware onto victims’ computers. (Gaining access to a victim’s computer or browser can give scammers access to sensitive personal information, accounts, and even allow them to monitor your “keystrokes” when you type in logins and passwords.) Counteract the scam by proactively logging into seller websites to check on any packages you may be expecting from them and, likely, find delivery tracking codes you can trust. And remember, this scam, like many others, attempts to catch you unaware. You, SCAM GRAM readers, are anything but unaware!

  Protect me, please!  

A ‘Link’ to fraud? Among social media platforms, many of us regard LinkedIn as a more businesslike site, somewhat more trustworthy than the Wild West of Facebook/Meta, where it seems you really can’t be confident about who you’re interacting with. But apparently crypto scammers have infiltrated LinkedIn, too. (This summer, the FBI said investment fraudsters pose a “significant threat” to LinkedIn users.) LinkedIn’s “Community Report” (in its online Transparency Center) says its “automated defenses blocked 96% of all fake accounts we stopped during the July-December 2021 period.” The company recently rolled out some additional user safeguards, including a new feature that allows users to check when profiles were created and last updated, and to learn if LinkedIn members have verified phone numbers or work emails. The company also is giving profile photos a deeper analysis and flagging messages that potentially include high-risk content. We hope these tools help protect users from interacting with fakers and scammers, but the most important thing you can do to protect yourself is to hone your personal “Spidey-Sense.” If it looks or sounds too good to be true, we’d bet it is!

Zelle-y good news? Some of America’s biggest banks finally may be coming up with a standardized refund policy for customers who fall victim to so-called “authorized push payment” scams using the banks’ jointly owned Zelle payment network. Late last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that some of the members of a consortium of banks that own the peer-to-peer payment system Zelle had been participating in advanced discussions about how to reimburse customers and each other for fraudulent Zelle transfers. According to the article, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America were among the banks discussing how to boost security and consumer trust in Zelle. It’s a big problem for the banks, because scammers, using nefarious email and text schemes, have been able to convince unwitting customers to send them payments using the system by impersonating bank security staff. Zelle operator Early Warning Services LLC told the Wall Street Journal that fraud and scam claims have happened on only “a tiny slice of payments”--less than 0.1%--but that is little comfort to people we’ve heard from who’ve lost tens of thousands of dollars. Unnamed sources quoted in the article said the new refund rules could kick in as soon as early next year. And, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is eyeing regulations to guarantee refunds. In either case, the help for victims can’t come a minute too soon.


A dirty tactic. In a bank fraud known as “check washing,” fraudsters obtain checks sent through the mail by taking envelopes out of personal mailboxes or stealing them from public mail drop boxes, and then change details on the stolen checks, like the payee’s name or dollar amount, and deposit them into their own accounts. It’s even possible for the fraudsters to take your routing and account numbers and sell them on the dark web or use them to create counterfeit checks. Some scammers have used copiers or scanners to print copies of a check. According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, law enforcement recovers more than $1 billion in counterfeit checks and money orders every year. If you mail checks, don’t leave the outgoing mail in your rural (unlocked) mailbox or deposit them in one of the “blue boxes” on street corners. Instead, drop your mail off at the post office. Always monitor your bank account to make sure your checks reached their destination and ensure that the amount of the deposited check matches what you wrote. If you see a discrepancy, contact your bank immediately.

Two ‘hot guys.’ Do you have “burning questions” about scams? We found this video, in which Ashton Bingham and Art Kulik of Trilogy Media answer some hot scam queries. How do you protect your aging parents from scams? How do scammers get our phone numbers? How do you know if an apartment listing is a scam? Why do people fall for scam sites so easily? Why are so many scam call centers in India? Watch “Scam Fighters Answer Scam Questions from Twitter” to learn more.

Bad connection. As reported previously in SCAM GRAM, users of Facebook Marketplace and peer-to-peer cash transfer apps Zelle and PayPal are among the fastest-growing scam targets. BeenVerified, a for-profit “people search” site, analyzed more than 165,000 reports about scam calls and texts it received in the past three years, finding that 2022 saw a “profusion of scam angles that dwarf” previous years--in particular, a growing number of cons that target the customers of peer-to-peer payment services and classified ad platforms. It says that crypto and romance scammers often coerce victims to communicate on WhatsApp, the phone and text messaging app, where the conversations are easier to hide. Scammers try to capitalize on fear, greed, wishful thinking and loneliness, and current news is often featured in scam come-ons. Take special care when using these platforms!

Dangerous game. We think it’s advisable to leave the job of investigating scammers up to law enforcement, but a community of “scambaiters” doesn’t agree. If you have 45 minutes to spare for a fascinating, free podcast, go to Marketplace and listen to the story of “Kari,” a chain-smoking sci-fi fan whose hobby, for lack of a better word, is trying to determine just how far scammers will go. Kari, herself the victim of a romance scam, journeys far down the rabbit hole of the online scam world and finds people “without souls” who would steal the last dollar from a cancer victim if they could.

Check this out. We realize most of your holiday shopping is already done, but just in case you are one of those last-minute shoppers, before you hit the sites, stores and shops, listen to this half-hour podcast (Checkbook.org's Top Holiday Shopping Tips) by one of our favorite consumer reporters, Herb Weisbaum, aka ConsumerMan. The National Retail Federation expects the average shopper to spend about $833 on gifts and other holiday items this year, up a few dollars from last year. With inflation driving up prices, Checkbook.org notes it’s more important than ever to be a savvy holiday shopper.

Home-sweet-NOT. Truth in Advertising (TINA.org) has been “inundated with very similar consumer complaints” in Spanish about about clones of scam company Control New Life (“the CNLs”) that are defrauding Spanish-speaking consumers who are interested in investing in real estate. The more than 700 complaints received by TINA detail how these related multi-level marketing (MLM) outfits are targeting Latino and Hispanic communities in the U.S. and abroad with home flipping investment scams. The CNLs claim to offer real estate investment opportunities, but the so-called investments have more in common with pyramid or Ponzi schemes. (TINA notes: “The company also heavily emphasizes recruitment of new investors, describing a 1% ‘Matrix Bonus’ flowing upwards from new recruits to those who brought them on, in a distinctly triangle-shaped pattern.”) TINA learned that at least two of CNL’s Spanish-speaking promoters have been in serious legal trouble with financial regulators. If you or someone you know has already given money to Homes CNL, Smart CNL, Crypto CNL or any other version of this investment scam, file fraud reports with the FTC and SEC.

’Tis the season to be scammed. Because this time of year presents so many opportunities for scammers--from delivery-related phishing messages to bogus charity requests--Consumer Action has just released a short video on holiday season scams. Check out our 'Tis the season to be scammed video to learn how you can stay safe from holiday scams and what to do if you fall victim. And while you’re there, please subscribe to Consumer Action’s YouTube channel.

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